We’ve been back from Europe now for over 2 months. We’ve been keeping busy, as always, but the last few months have seen some new activities and events added to our lives.
I had a weird little lightbulb moment near the beginning of March, when I realized I might be able to combine 2 very important aspects of my life to create something good.
That’s how my weightloss challenge was born.
I pitched the idea to a few friends who quickly jumped on board. I expected maybe 20 people to get involved
In the end, we had 136 contestants in about 15 different cities
The idea was simple. Contestants paid 100rmb ($20 Canadian) to enter the challenge. I would spend two months leading a positive and encouraging group. We’d donate any money raised to a couple of animal shelters.
Of course, all of this ended up being a whole lot of work for me. Every day, I get between 25 and 50 challenges to enter into my giant Excel sheet. On Tuesdays, contestants weigh in, so we can stay accountable to our goals, and then on Wednesdays, I draw names for mini prizes based on whatever goals I set for the week.
We also held a “Dogathon” to raise money forvthe shelters. There were 2 main cities involved in the Charity Challenge, so contestants in each city planned a giant walk for dogs and their owners. Similar to the Charity challenge itself, participants paid a small fee to join in, and all proceeds went to the animals.
With the success of the challenge and the dogathon, I decided to take things one step further, and to begin organizing volunteer trips to the SAPA shelter, which is home to more than 1000 dogs and cats.
The trip was incredible. The SAPA is a noisy, smelly and magical place. The animals there are quite well cared for and mostly very friendly. You get the feeling while you’re there, that you are the best thing that has happened to those dogs all week. And that’s a nice feeling.
We had a very talented photographer join us on that first trip, and he did such an incredible job of capturing the beauty and sadness of that shelter.
Everyone there left a part of their hearts behind. There were 2 animals that really stood out to me. One was a small male dog with a scar around his snout. He likely had his mouth wired shut by an abuser. He is the sweetest little dog but SO afraid of people. It took me 20 minutes of sitting there with him before he finally had the bravery to come over to me. He melted into my lap as soon as I touched him. It was like he had been waiting forever for a bit of affection.
I dubbed my little black sweetheart “Wiggle Bum” because of the way he wiggled back and forth for 20 minutes trying to decide whether or not to come see me. You can see him in the video below. It’s not the best video, but it gives you an idea of what the shelter is like. He was also much less scared when I was there the second time. I wonder if he remembered me and remembered that I was kind to him.
The other animal that I really fell for was a beautiful, blind ginger cat. He was SO affectionate and so darn sweet. My friend Kim spent most of her time at SAPA cuddled up with him. I made sure to get lots of pictures of him and later that night, I made a flyer to try and find him an adopter, or at least to raise funds to get him healthy.
No one was able to foster him, but a lot of people donated, so Dave and I had him moved from the shelter to our vet, where he was quarantined for a week and treated for mites, fleas, ear fungus, a sinus infection and a few other little problems.
Now, he’s staying with us and learning how to be a good house cat. He’s sweet as ever and becoming so incredibly confident!
Since my first trip to the shelter, I’ve organized a group that people can join if they want to volunteer but don’t really know what to do or where to go. I organize buses to and from the SAPA and bring up to 25 people at a time. I’m going tomorrow again and I can’t wait!!
Next week, the Charity challenge ends. In total, we’ve raised more than 40,000rmb ($8000 Canadian) and lost more than 225kgs (about 500 pounds) in weight!!! I’d call that a success!!!!
The challenge is nearly over, but the mission will continue!!!
If you’re reading this and wondering how you can help, drop me a line in the comments section!
Evgeny Bakhchev, our talented photographer, also put together a beautiful video about our visit, with the help of his lovely wife, Daria. Enjoy!!
Working in China can mean a lot of great things. The number 1 perk of living abroad is the amount of traveling Dave and I can do. With 3 months off annually, we’ve seen at least 4 countries per year for the last 5 years. It’s been a pretty amazing ride.
Of course, living in China also has its downsides. I work every day of the week to keep up with my insane courseload. I work on average 60-70 hours per week, often finishing my grading at midnight. I also work most weekends, preparing for Monday’s classes. Please believe me when I say I work very, very hard for these holidays!
Of course, living in China also means constantly being surrounded by people. Even China’s small cities have 2 million people, and Suzhou has 8 million. By the time our holidays arrive, I’m so tired of crowds that I just want to get away from every human other than Dave.
So far, Spain has been an amazing break from the hoards of people we’re used to. Even in Madrid, we were able to choose activities that kept us away from the masses.
But today, in Toledo, we were reminded why we have been choosing quieter activities for the last week. Toledo was a nuthouse!
Toledo is less than an hour from Madrid, so it’s an easy getaway from the capital. The town is cute but MUCH more geared towards tourists than either Avila or Segovia. Both of the smaller towns seemed to have a local life of their own, whereas Toledo seems to just exist for tourism.
We tried to enjoy ourselves in spite of the masses, but when we walked into the Cathedral to hear a Chinese kid scream “whaaaaa!!!!”, I knew our day was circling the drain.
By 1pm we started getting grumpy with each other, so we decided to hop in the car and get out of the city.
We didn’t see anything too spectacular, but we enjoyed the ride, the quiet and the fresh air. Today, it was warm enough to have the windows rolled down!
This term has been one for the history books. With 120 writing & Englush students, 240 homework assignments to grade each week, a curriculum to develop and various elective classes and activities to prepare, I’ve barely had time to breath. Somehow though, Dave and I have managed to have a life outside of Suhou Foreign Language School this year. Unfortunately, my blog has fallen to the wayside.
This is what 240 tests looks like. The final week of the term is always the hardest….
Still, it’s never too late to some catching up, and now that I’m on holiday for Spring festival, I have the chance!
Summer is long in Suzhou and autumn is short but beautiful. Parks are always nice to visit in fall because the temperature is cooler and there doesn’t seem to be so many tourists. So, when an opportunity arose for us to take a tour of several Suzhou Parks with a Suzhou expert, we didn’t hesitate to join in the fun.
We saw two lesser known parks on this tour and learned about the art of calligraphy. I was happy to get some beautiful shots as we walked and learned
Several of Suzhou’s parks are UNESCO world heritage sights. They have their own unique architecture and style
Most of these parks were used as living spaces for wealthy Suzhou citizens in the past. Across from the pond is a beautiful tea room where the villa owners would entertain their friends and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere
Water plays an important role in these gardens. Steve, our guide, studied ancient Suzou for many years and he wrote a book about it. He does his walks and teaches both locals and foreigners alike about the history of this ancient water town
It was a beautiful afternoon. Sadly, we missed the other 2 Walks with Steve because of our busy schedule (more on that soon), but I’m sure we’ll be joining him to learn more about Suzhou’s history very soon.
We had a good crowd that day and met some great new people
Music also had me busy this fall. The Sundaze played several big shows, including a gig with Internations; a group that helps connect expats. We also played a really cool gig at a wine party, and one outdoor concert.
The Parking Park Festival is done annually (although usually with a better name). Musicians play on Moon Harbour… One of Suzhou’s main tourist stops
Those other gigs were fun, but my favourite show of the season was definitely Diwali. My involvement in one of India’s most important holidays began when I was asked to make a flyer for the event. From there, I ended up managing the wechat group, and most of the public relations. I wasn’t planning to take on those roles, but I rolled with the punches and was very proud to be part of this very successful event!
I’m particularly proud of the Flyers I made for the event!
Our last gig of the year was a private event held by a group of Danish expats. It was a particularly interesting event because it was held at a cabaret in Shanghai.
I loved the feel of the venue. We had a proper light and sound guy too, which was a nice change! Proper mixing is a wonderful thing because it means way less work for the vocalist. My mic was perfect the whole night and I never had to force my voice
Aside from performances, we’ve tried to get out and spend time with friends quite a bit these last few months. We’ve made some amazing new friends. Our social circle has expanded considerably!
Zou Guizhou continues to be a favorite hang out
Our apartment was nearly as full as our schedule for more than 2 months this autumn. We got word of a litter of abandoned kittens nearby, so we offered to take 2 of them in.
We called them Coco (the tabby cat) and Havana (the calico). We jokingly called them “The Monsters” because of their voracious appetites, but in all seriousness, they are two of the sweetest, most gentle kittens we’ve ever known.
We had them longer than we had planned, mostly because the adoptions we lined up for them kept falling through for various reasons. Nevertheless, we ended up finding them a good home with a Russian couple that adore them. I miss them so much my heart hurts, but that’s what the “bitter” part is with fostering. You give them all your love, your time, your care…. And then you let them go.
Suzhou’s Animal Rescue Network
Which brings me to the last and most important part of my post. While it’s true I’ve been busy raising kittens and making music, there has been a new item on my to do list since the first week of October: Rescuing animals
It all began when I joined a wechat group that was run by university students. The group was basically set up to help animals, and by the time I joined, it was being used to find fosters, adopters and also to fundraise for vet bills.
One particular woman posted a lot. She had multiple puppies living in her home, all rescued from the street. I was keeping up with her posts and it seemed like every day a new litter of dogs would arrive in her tiny apartment. After a few weeks she started asking for help.
My biggest concern in all this was the puppies’ health. By the time I got involved, Cindy had 17 puppies, 8 cats and 5 adult dogs all living in her home (plus 7 more being boarded at the vet). More significantly, without the skills to advertise these dogs, she wasn’t finding any of them fosters or homes. Luckily, I have some skills making flyers so Dave and l went down to meet Cindy and get pictures of the 18 puppies in her home.
I started circulating flyers and seeking help for these dogs. 6 days later, the first dog came down with parvo virus…
In the end, we only lost 2 of the 23 dogs living in that house. We expected far worse, especially given that many of the dogs weren’t in perfect health even before the parvo. I circulated flyers, and made people aware of the situation. I collected donations and paid the puppies bills with the funds sent in by the generous people living in Suzhou city. It cost more than $3000 Canadian to get all the dogs healthy, but it was well worth the effort. We’ve rehomed nearly all of the dogs now, and they’re living happily with their forever families!
Another dog came along during the parvo breakout. When she was found, I thought she didn’t have a chance. The woman who rescued her believed she could make it though, so I named her Hope and started circulating her story. It’s been several months now since she was found, dragging the back side of her paralyzed body… But Hope survived. She’s maintained a friendly and sweet personalty through all this, and helping her was one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever accomplished in my life.
A local “celebrity” interviewed me about Hope’s story. He’s a Danish Baker by day, but his side job is Vlogging. He makes videos about different ways people can find happiness in life. Helping animals is what brings me happiness.
Now, I’m running the group started by those kind hearted university students. We have about 300 members now and it takes 3 of us to manage the group because it’s not an easy job. I try very hard to keep it positive and about the animals. So often, people have different ideas about the best ways to fundraise and I try very hard to focus on successes and the things people CAN do.
Can I save every dog in the world? Of course not, but I helped find more than a dozen homeless animals forever homes in the last 3 months.
Can I stop every case of animal cruelty in the world? It would be impossible. But I helped save Hope.
Can I change everyone’s opinions about China and it’s attitudes towards animals? Nope. But I can work together with all the wonderful locals who DO care and very much want to see change in their country.
I’ve had a few good cries over all these dogs and all the ugliness I’ve seen. But something wonderful and unexpected has started happening through all this. As someone who is quite active in the expat community (The Foodies Groups, The Sundaze, Internations etc.), I have a voice here in Suzhou. And at some point in the last few months, I’ve become the person people call when there are dogs found freezing in the rain.
And I tell ya, each time I get a new contact and someone says “hey, Marie. I heard that you’re the person to contact about abandoned animals. Can you help?” And I can actually help….. It’s a pretty darn purposeful way to spend my time.
So, that’s why you haven’t been hearing as much from me as of late. But get ready, because I’m on holiday in Europe and will be doing my daily posts!
If you or anyone you know is interested in helping Suzhou’s abandoned and needy animals, please add me to wechat! Whether you want to adopt, foster or donate, every bit of help we recieve is crucial and appreciated!!!
One of the best things about living in China is the high speed train. Dave and I have no interest in buying a car in China, so the high speed train is how we get from city to city, when we need a break from Suzhou.
This year, we’ve taken a record number of weekend trips that I thought might be worth writing about.
Cirque du Soleil
My hatred of Shanghai city has never been a secret, but I’ve recently grown to appreciate this metropolis, regardless of its overpopulation and pollution…
The event that began this new understanding of Shanghai was none other than a Cirque Du Soleil show. Dave and I have seen 6 shows total now, so when we found out that Kooza would be playing in old Pudong…we booked tickets with our friends Kim and CJ.
Shanghai doesn’t get as many big shows as I wish it did (mainly because a lot of bands and musicians are banned in China), but now and then, they get a good one. Linkin Park played Shanghai a few years ago, before Chester Bennington’s death. Unfortunately, the concert took place while I was visiting family in Canada, which meant I missed my last opportunity to see one of my favourite bands perform.
Couldn’t pay me to see….
Don’t really care to see…
Christmas with Friends
We’ve taken a couple of trips to Hangzhou this year as well. Located about 2 hours away by high speed train, Hangzhou is a beautiful city. It was recently the location of a G20 Summit, and is home to West Lake, which is both scenic and huge. Hangzhou is the capital of Zhezhang province, Jiangsu’s neighbour to the south.
Christmas with Friends
A beautiful place to take a walk
More importantly, Hangzhou is home to two of my favourite people in the world! So, Dave and I, along with our friend Kevin, made our way down to Hangzhou for Christmas this year. We enjoyed some excellent meals, a nice walk around West Lake, and time with good friends. It was well worth the weekend trip!
Feeling ‘Christmasy’ at Eudora…a lovely restaurant in Hangzhou
On the train
A purple wreath
We had dinner at a very interesting place. The menu had some translation problems…
Weddings in Hangzhou
A few months later, we found ourselves back in Hangzhou for Deb and Dedrick’s wedding! We had another lovely trip in, and this time, we got to spend the weekend with our good friends Mark and Deb. Mark and I play in The Sundaze together, and it was good to get out and cut loose in a new city with them. And of course, my dear Kevin was there as well!
Back at Eudora
The adorable Deb and I
Mark, being himself
Midnight snack stop on our way home from drinks at Eudora
The longer you stay in China, the more people you meet. Deb and Dedrick’s wedding was a really cool experience because there were people from everywhere there. It was a beautiful mixture of North American and Argentinian culture, with guests from all over the world.
Dressed up for the wedding
A beautiful vegetarian wedding dinner
These were so darn good!
A beautiful dress designed by the bride
Friends travelled from France and Mexico to be there for the wedding
Moroccan food in Tianzefang
Finally, Shanghai itself can be an awesome little getaway. When Dave and I went to Taiwan in April, we opted to spend the night in Shanghai before flying out the next morning to Taipei (Suzhou doesn’t have an airport). We asked around for food recommendation, and my friend Andy told me of a good Moroccan place in an area of Shanghai called Tianzefang.
Such a great restaurant! Can’t wait to go back!!!
Pear and chicken breast….
figs and lamb shank
Morrocan friend rice
Tianzifang is lovely! It’s a vibrant and interesting area that doesn’t feel at all like the Pudong I grew to hate. It’s full of bars, unique shops and great international food options.
Dave and I, enjoying a walk home
Some strange signs
This cat doesn’t move….these two pictures were taken a month apart lol
A month or so later, Dave and I actually made a special trip to Shanghai just to have another meal at Andelus, the Moroccan restaurant Andy recommended. The following morning, we visited the very famous ” Lao Wai Park“.
Shanghai’s Lao Wai (foreigner) Park, is an are of restaurants and bars that are very popular among expats. The comedy group Mamahuhu did a series of videos there. Dave and I had an amazing lunch at a little Vietnamese restaurant. I can’t wait til we can visit again!
We also wandered around Shanghai for a bit during our last trip in. We saw the largest Starbucks in the world while we were there. There was a massive lineup, so we didn’t go in, but I did take some pictures.
In it’s first 8 weeks, this 30,000 square foot Starbucks roastery made more than $60,000 every DAY
The lineups were ridiculous and we didn’t want to wait in the heat, so we didn’t go inside
But I DID sneak some pictures from the outside!
There are so many more nearby places we want to visit before we leave China. We have friends in Nanjing that we really want to go visit. We also want to see Yellow Mountain, and of course we’d love to see more of Shanghai and Hangzhou. The high speed train gives us so many opportunities for travel. Now, to make the time!
I’ll be writing lots over the next week, trying to catch up on all my Indonesia posts before we head to The Philippines!
Being an English teacher has its challenges, but one of the biggest perks I have as a language teacher is that I can teach my lessons through a variety of lenses. If I’m teaching about conditional voice, for example, I can have the students talk about which super powers they wish they had, or about regrets they have from the past.
This year, I chose to teach my grade 9 students English through a lens I think everyone should consider: “Critical Thinking in Social Media”. I introduced them to Snopes, discussed the power (and danger) of memes and we talked about subjects ranging from gun control in the United States to South Korean fan superstitions. My hope was that I’d teach them how to be considerate and intelligent Netizens, but I probably learned nearly as much as they did.
Our class discussions about the dangers of Social Media really got me thinking. We discussed the idea that people rarely write about bad things that are happening in their lives, but instead tend to focus on the positive, making their lives look more glamorous and perfect that they really are. In of itself, this isn’t a problem, but when others see those happy posts, they start to compare their own lives with the (perfect) lives that others present to the cyber world.
Elephants in Thailand
Ziplining in Laos
Cruising down the Mekong River looking for Irawaddy Dolphins
Sunsets on the Great Wall
Sunsets in Phu Quoc….if all you see are these…it seems like my life is a breeze!
I try not to do this, but, of course, it can be difficult. I haven’t been feeling particularly positive lately, so I thought this would be a good time to write about the negative aspects of living as an expat. *Spoiler…it’s awesome…but like everything, it has its downsides*
June is a hard month for a lot of reasons. It’s the end of the school year, which is stressful for all teachers. Between grading, report cards and final tests, teachers across the planet are barely holding it together every June. When you’re an expat teacher, you have to also consider the stress of booking flights home, finding cat sitters, and spending 6 weeks living out of suitcases. It’s stressful.
Not to mention the nightmare of travelling…
And the fact that I have to go to an airport that has SIM card vending machines every few meters, but bottled water is hidden away
And then there’s the train station…. Have I mentioned we do all this with luggage???
That’s not to say that I’d give up my trip home to avoid these stresses…but it is something a lot of people don’t think about when they think of what it’s like teaching abroad. Other things include…
Saying Goodbye to Students
One event was particularly emotional for me this month. My grade 9 students have been with me since my very first day at SFLS, and in September, they will be moving onto high school. Many of them will be moving abroad as well, so it’s not as though I’ll be seeing many of them again. Their graduation was last Friday and although I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry (I even refused to bring tissue in an attempt to not even give myself the option), I ended up red in the face and tearier than I would like to admit. When you love teaching…it’s easy to become attached to the kids you see every day for 3 years.
Victor and I with Wendy. I was happy I could put my hands in front of my face because I’d started crying a few moments before and simply couldn’t stop
This class is full of the coolest kids in China. I’m sure of it
This is Angel. She’s the reason I was crying. She came up and gave me a hug and whipered ‘thank you’ in my ear and I just couldn’t stop. As a teacher, you pour yourself into your students. You spend all your free time grading their work and helping them on Wechat. You spend you life getting them ready for exams and making sure that they’re getting the best education you can provide. Unfortunately, teaching teenagers can be pretty thankless. They often forget about their foreign teachers because we aren’t as important at the school as the Chinese staff. It’s amazing what one quiet “Thank You” can make you feel. Also…I know teachers aren’t suppose to have favourites…but Angel is one of my favourite students ever. She’s kind and intelligent as she is beautiful.
Michael and I at the Drama Festival. I’m still waiting for him to send me the photos of us at grad, although he made me cry too. He has popped up in many of my blog posts and will always have a special place in my heart.
Ken, back when he was in 7th grade
He’s taller than me now…but still one of the coolest kids I’ve ever known. He’ll be moving to Hawaii over the summer. He was accepted in the a school there. I’m insanely jealous.
Still, I wish them all the best, and although it sucks to see them go, I have new students coming in next September, and they will provide new challenges and rewards for me and all their other teachers.
This class is full of the coolest kids in China. I’m sure of it
Kate looked beautiful in her graduation dress. She reminds me so much of what I was like at that age…kind of sarcastic…very dramatic…but as passionate as they come.
With the students at this year’s spelling bee
Final class photos
The friendships you form while living abroad are also a very important part of the expat life. I’ve made friends from all over the world, and although we’re all very different people with very different backgrounds, there is one thing we all have in common: we don’t really belong anywhere.
When you’re away from home, having a good group of friends becomes increasingly important. They’re who you spend Christmas with and they’re who help you through troubled times. Most importantly, they’re the ones who understand you, because as much as people back home can try and empathize, they only really see the really good and really bad parts of being an expat…none of the ‘in-between-everday-stuff’.
When a student of mine committed suicide in January, it was Kim and CJ who helped me through. Kim has been a teacher for years, and she understands the pressure Chinese students deal with. It’s pressure different from anything western students experience
These people have helped us both through a whole lot of crappy days, crappy months and crappy moments.
Mike also helped me through Pony’s death. He and I spend quite a lot of time brainstorming ways to make sure our students know we are there for them. Pony was his student as well, and I think that if I hadn’t had someone to talk to about how we could prevent this from happening again…it would have been even harder to get through it.
Dave and I are far more outgoing and far more adventurous abroad than we ever were back home, and our social life is pretty awesome. We spend lots of time going out for dinner, going to KTV, going to Salsa parties, and of course, I have my band. All these things are done with friends…and 99% of my friends are currently expats, or people who were previously expats, but have moved back home to China.
Cheetar (USA_, Myself and Tythus (Malaysia). They both work in the highschool. Cheetar and I have been working together for 3 years. He is leaving to move to a different part of China this summer. I’m going to miss seeing him around the school.
Dedrick, Mark and I….We are the Sundaze! Dedrick moved to Hangzhou last summer…it’s only an hour away, and I still get to see him often, but it’s sucked not having him around. Luckily, he’s moving back to Suzhou in September!! Mark and I are planning to leave Suzhou at the same time. I’m working on convincing him and his wife to join us in Vietnam. Fingers crossed!
Katie, Kevin, Dave and I last year at Dave’s Birthday. I just learned that Katie is moving back to Suzhou after finishing her Master’s degree in England. It’ll be great to have her back!
Jeff…the very first friend i made in Suzhou. When he found out a new Canadian was going to be working at SFLS, he emailed me to welcome me to the team. I felt more welcomed in Suzhou before I even moved there, than I did my whole time in Guiyang
Liz. One of my longest friendships in Suzhou
Adam is also one of my oldest Suzhou friends. We only worked together for a year before he moved to a different school, but we’ve stayed friends even though he’s across the city. His girlfriend, Tracy, lives in our building, so we get to see her often
Kevin is one of my best friends in the world. He moved away last week. I miss him more than I really want to think about
You make friends at school too, of course. Sam is the giant on the far left. He teaches economics with me in IGCSE. Crystal is the Chinese teacher and she is also my cleaning buddy in the office! And Victor is one of my bffs. We’ve worked together for 2 years at SFLS. He’s from Nigeria and he’s a fantastic human being
Linda and Paul are Taiwanese. We became friends over the past 3 years because Linda’s parents own a restaurant we like
Miya. One of the most beautiful people on the planet. She moved away for a year to live in New Zealand. It sucked.
Michael and Dave. Michael is a Kiwi who lived in Suzhou for our first 2 years. I still find myself missing him although he moved back to New Zealand more than a year ago now.
We are losing Shane on Saturday. He’s moving back to Australia. He’ll be missed a lot. Other than Dave, he’s our best groupie!
Of course…when you are a nomad and surround yourself with other nomads…people enter and leave your life regularly. It’s difficult because I understand it…but I hate it. I also hate that soon I’ll be the one leaving people behind. Already, I find myself wondering if I’ll ever find friends as good as the ones I have in Suzhou…
Occasionally, you get to see your expat friends again….
We were lucky to have 2 friends visit us this year. Joan and Lexie both visited us in the fall
And sometimes, people even move back…like Miya. this was us the day she came back to Suzhou. I look only about half as excited as I actually was!!
The ‘Home Dilemma’
Home becomes a really weird concept when you live abroad. I like to say that ‘Home is where my cats are’, but in reality, I spend 3 months away from them every year. I’d like to say that ‘Home is where you grew up’, but nobody in my family even lives in that tiny Manitoba town, so how can that really be home? Steinbach never really felt like home for me, because I was too different from the local people. Oddly enough, in some ways, Suzhou has been feeling more like home than anywhere I’ve ever been. I’ve become a part of the community, through music, foodie groups and through school.
My band has turned me into a more social and charismatic person. Playing with these guys is easily one of the funnest things I’ve ever done in my life
Whether we’re playing in dingy bars
Or at music festivals
We always have a blast!
I think that living abroad changes you in that way. Home isn’t as easily defined when you don’t ever quite fit in. In China, I’m a minority. I’m only one of a few thousand expats in a city of 8 million people. Back home, it’s the same. I’ve had such a different 4 years than most of my friends and family. It’s difficult to explain your feelings about things when the people in your life see the world differently than you do. It’s especially noticeable when talking about world politics or world events with people back in Canada. It’s easy to talk about India’s poverty or an earthquake in Indonesia when you see it as some far off place, separate from you. But when you can picture the smells and sounds of a place….when you’ve been there and it’s personal…you see those events very differently.
What makes it especially hard is that we’ve never had any family or friends visit us here in China. I know that it isn’t in everyone’s budget, and there are a thousand reasons why people can’t just hop on a plane and visit, but regardless of those reasons…it makes ‘home’ a difficult subject. At the end of the day, China is currently our home, but the people we know and love back in Canada have no idea what our life is like in the place we call home.
And that’s why I hound my family save up and come visit us…it’s not because I want to show them the sites or because I think China is the most beautiful place on earth….it’s because I want them to understand me. I people back home to understand what life is like in the city I currently call home.
Always Missing Somewhere or Someone
And of course there’s the obvious reason it’s hard being an expat is all the stuff you leave behind at the end of the summer. It’s great having stories to tell your family and friends…but I really do wish I had the power of teleportation. Then, I wouldn’t need to miss everyone so much.
I always laugh because when I’m in China, I call Canada Home…and when I’m in Canada, I call China home
There’s so much I miss about Winnipeg. Going to concerts is definitely one
I miss lakes and trees….and quiet.
I miss these wonderful people most of all!
It isn’t All Bad
Of course, it isn’t nearly all bad. June is probably my least favourite month of the year. It’s difficult saying goodbye to students. It’s difficult saying goodbye to friends. Add that to the fact that it’s exam season and end of term…and I can’t believe it’s taken me 4 years to write this post.
Still, there are a thousand things that being an expat allows us to do. It sucks saying goodbye to friends…but it’s great meeting so many new people all the time. It sucks only seeing our family and Canadian friends once a year, but we always have so many stories to tell them! And being an Expat gives us so many opportunities that we’d never have back in Canada. My band wouldn’t get nearly as many gigs if we weren’t ‘interesting foreigners’. Of course, we could never afford to travel this much if we didn’t live in China. And with Dave working from home, we were able to foster little Oscar. Here are some pictures of Oscar to remind you of all the reasons I love being an expat!
Stay tuned! I’ve got half a dozen more posts coming in the next month or so!!
He was found in the bushes right outside my school
He was mostly blind when we found him. Within our first week with him he started following movements
He was such a princely little cat!
What a flirt!
If Dave didn’t work at home, we never would have been able to give him the care he needed
These are the lovely women who adopted our little foster kitty
One of the coolest parts of being an expat is all the people you meet. They come from everywhere. I’ve met chefs from Italy, chemists from New Zealand, PhD students from Turkey and of course, musicians from Portugal, The Philippines and beyond… We all come from different backgrounds and are in China for various reasons, but we all have one thing in common… We’ve all chosen Suzhou as home away from home.
Dave and I at the “Red Dress Hash”. Everyone dressed up in red dresses and fundraised for an Orphanage here in Suzhou. We saw a bit of the city, spent the evening outside walking, and had a great time!
At the beginning of this year, I decided to put myself out there more. I joined several WeChat groups in an effort to meet more people and to become part of the expat community. I started with music groups, because it was something I knew a lot about. I’ve also joined writers’ groups, travel groups and most recently, a Foodie group.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love both cooking… And eating!!!
In the Foodie Group, we all post about our favourite restaurants. Now, whenever Dave and I want to try something new, we check out places that have been recommended by fellow Foodies.
Our most recent recommendation: a Singaporean restaurant in Suzhou Center
A few months ago, I wrote about our friend, Lixia, and her restaurant that specializes in Guizhou food. Before I knew it, I was getting messages from the other Foodies, thanking me for the recommendation. Since then, this tiny Chinese restaurant has become quite popular amongst expats.
Lixia surprised Dave with a cake for his birthday last month
Lixia is easily one of the sweetest and most hard working people I know, so when I learned about a Food & Beverage competition, I got in touch with the organizers and nominated Zou Guizhou for the “Best View” award.
Her award winning view
Tonight, we went to the finals for this award, at The W hotel here in SIP. Lixia won in her category, and we were able to celebrate with her. It was a really fun night filled with good food, great wine and fabulous company.
Kevin joined us for the evening. He is the one who found Zou Guizhou for us 2 years ago
So happy to have Miya back in Suzhou!!!
Larry and Lixia have become friends too 🙂
The best part of the night was when I realized how many people I knew at the event. A year ago, I made it my mission to become part of the expat community in Suzhou… And that mission has been accomplished.
Well, we are on day 3 of our holiday now, so I suppose I have some catching up to do if I’m going to blog every day!!!
The theme of my first post is simple: I hate Pudong airport. Pudong is Shanghai’s international airport, so we use it at least 4 times every year. Each time, I’m floored by how bad it is.
This year was especially bad because we flew over night and our flight left at 1:30am. Now, my big problem with PVG is that after security, the food and drink options are seriously limited. There are a few really bad Chinese restaurants (which confuses me because Chinese food is so good!!!), and everything is terribly overpriced… Even by airport standards!!
Burger King is one of the only decent options post security, so on Sunday night, Dave spent over an hour waiting in line to get a couple of burgers (we were flying Air Asia… They give you exactly NOTHING on their flights without paying extra so we usually just eat at the airport).
In the meantime, I set off to find bottled water (they seriously give you nothing…). I spent an hour running around only to find small bottles of Evian for 40rmb (350ml for nearly $10 Canadian). I couldn’t even find a functional drink machine either….I DID find SIM card vending machines though…. So there’s that.
In the end, I found an entire row of drinking machines about a half km down the airport, but by then, I was so thirsty I downed 2 bottles right away and then ran out of change! Luckily, Dave showed up moments later with additional coinage and burgers in hand.